Firstly, the President of the Assembleia da República , who represents the Portuguese Parliament at the Conference of Presidents of EU Parliaments and who is responsible for sending the opinions of the Assembleia da República to the European institutions.
Secondly, the European Affairs Committee, which plays a central role in the political monitoring of and pronouncement on European initiatives, tasks to which all the parliamentary standing committees contribute depending on the subject matte.
Political oversight is exercised primarily by the European Affairs Committee (EAC) in the form of hearings involving Members of the Government, in particular the Secretary of State for European Affairs before and after each meeting of the European Council. It also hears other Members of the Government, who are invited to brief MPs about the decisions taken in the Council of the EU in their areas of government. In parallel, every year the Committee reviews the Report on Portugal's Participation in the EU, which is prepared and presented by the Government. In addition to the hearings held by the EAC, there are eight annual plenary debates about European affairs, which includes the participation of the government: a plenary debate with the participation of the Prime Minister to be held before each European Council (at least four); a plenary debate at the beginning of each presidency of the Council of the European Union (two); a plenary debate on the State of the Union; and, finally, a plenary debate on the various instruments for the economic governance of the European Union that are included in the European Semester.
Participation in the European decision-making process essentially happens at three levels: firstly, the European Affairs Committee and the parliamentary committees with responsibility for the matter in question participate in the scrutiny of European initiatives on a regular basis; secondly, an annual public hearing is held on the Work Programme of the European Commission which is attended by Members of the Legislative Assemblies of the Autonomous Regions, Portuguese MEPs, a representative of the European Commission and a Member of the Portuguese Government; and thirdly, MPs participate in interparliamentary meetings organised by the European Parliament, national Parliaments and COSAC.
This is the name given to the process of monitoring, assessment and pronouncement by the European Affairs Committee and the parliamentary standing committees of the initiatives - legislative and non-legislative - referred to them by the European institutions.
In 2006, under the so-called "Barroso Initiative", the European Commission initiated a political dialogue with national Parliaments, according to which it undertook to refer all the initiatives presented by the Commission on a daily basis, inviting national Parliaments to examine these documents and to present their opinions on the substance of the initiative and the proposed solutions.
With the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon, the practice of sending European initiatives to national Parliaments was formalised and extended to the other European institutions (the Council and the European Parliament). At the same time, the Treaty provided for the possibility of national Parliaments being directly involved in the European decision-making process through scrutiny of the principle of subsidiarity, under the terms of Protocol 2 to the Treaty of Lisbon.
The Portuguese Parliament may therefore undertake the scrutiny of each European initiative, that is, pronounce on the substance of the initiative and compliance with the principle of subsidiarity and send its opinion to the European institutions (the European Commission, the Council and the European Parliament), and to the Government for information.
The legal construction of the European Union is founded on the principle of attribution, which establishes that the Union only has the powers attributed to it by Member States through the Treaties. It cannot act outside those powers, leaving it to Member States to act. Among the various powers attributed to the Union, some have been attributed on an exclusive basis, meaning that only the Union can regulate such matters (for example: customs union, monetary policy in those countries that use the euro, the common commercial policy, etc) and others have been partially attributed: the so-called shared competences (e.g. the internal market, environment, transport, energy, agriculture and fisheries, area of freedom, security and justice, etc). In these cases, both the Union and the Member States may regulate matters that fall into this category. The principle of subsidiarity arises in the context of these shared competences, as a consequence of the principle of attribution. The Treaty states that “in areas which do not fall within its exclusive competence, the Union shall act only if and in so far as the objectives of the proposed action cannot be sufficiently achieved by the Member States, either at central level or at regional and local level, but can rather, by reason of the scale or effects of the proposed action, be better achieved at Union level”. In accordance with the Treaties, the Assembleia da República (and other national Parliaments) check whether, for a certain proposed legislative act which falls within the scope of the shared competences, the best level of decision is that of the Union or whether, instead, the Member States themselves should regulate this matter.
The European Affairs Committee (EAC) receives all European (legislative and non-legislative) initiatives from the European Commission and the Council on a daily basis. These initiatives are distributed to the competent parliamentary committees according to subject matter.
Each competent parliamentary committee has its own methodology for the parliamentary scrutiny of European initiatives and, in accordance with it, appoints an MP to act as Rapporteur and decides whether or not to scrutinise a particular initiative.
When it decides to scrutinise a European initiative, it may request information from the Government about Portugal's official position on that matter, and may hold hearings involving Members of the Government, experts, sector associations, among others, and may ask the EAC or the Representative of the Assembleia da República in Brussels for information about the scrutiny of this initiative by other national Parliaments.
After completing the analysis of the initiative, the MP acting as Rapporteur of the parliamentary standing committee prepares a report, which is approved at a meeting of the Committee and referred to the EAC.
In the European Affairs Committee, the European initiative is distributed to a Committee member, who analyses the initiative in the light of the Report of the parliamentary standing committee. In particular, one of the responsibilities of the MP drawing up the Written Opinion is to analyse the legal basis of the initiative and its compliance with the principle of subsidiarity, and to highlight any considerations that the parliamentary standing committee has expressed on the content of the initiative.
The Written Opinion is then discussed by the EAC and, if approved, it is sent, together with the Report of the parliamentary standing committee responsible for the matter, to the President of the Assembleia da República, who sends it to the European institutions (the European Commission, the Council and the European Parliament) and to the Government, and this becomes the position of the Portuguese Parliament on the matter in question. In situations in which the European Affairs Committee considers that the principle of subsidiarity is breached, the Written Opinion is submitted to the Plenary in the form of a draft Resolution.